White Paper on Accreditation Calls For Refocus on Quality

By Joan Berkes, Policy & Federal Relations Staff 

On Monday Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), released white papers in an effort to focus attention on three topics related to the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act: student consumer information requirements, risk-sharing in the student loan programs, and accreditation.

The Senator has requested public comment by April 24 on these papers. NASFAA will submit comments, and in turn would like to hear from you. Please send your comments to policy@nasfaa.org.

Report on Accreditation

This white paper describes a need to “redesign and reform accreditation to strengthen the quality of colleges and universities, promote competition and innovation in higher education, and provide accountability to government stakeholders and taxpayers.” The report identifies the following problems that need to be addressed in the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act:

  • Accreditation has not always produced or improved educational quality 
  • Accreditation can inhibit innovation and competition 
  • Federal recognition of accreditation can be political and bureaucratic 
  • Accreditation can be costly, burdensome and inefficient 

The report offers a number of options and proposals for reform as a basis for discussion.

To refocus accreditation on quality, the report suggests:

  • Repeal accreditation-related regulations and statute that are unrelated to direct institutional quality and improvement.
  • Permit flexibility and nuance in accreditation reviews
  • Encourage gradation, distinction and clarity in accreditation status and reviews
  • Delink accreditation from institutional eligibility for federal student aid

To redesign accreditation to promote competition and innovation, the report suggests:

  • Establish new pathways to accreditation and/or title iv eligibility for non-college providers of higher education
  • Eliminate the geographic-based structure of regional accrediting agencies

To keep recognition of accrediting agencies independent and free from politics, the report suggests:

  • Limit any expansion of the Secretary of Education’s authority in making policy-related recognition decisions outside of current law. 
  • Authorize the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) to hire its own accreditation staff, independent of the Department of Education accreditation staff, to assist in preparation of agency recognition recommendations. 


Publication Date: 3/25/2015

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